December 8, 2009

Emergency state mobility contract overdue for review

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Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

A new, $4.6 million paratransit contract between the Maryland Transit Administration and a vendor has not yet made it before the Board of Public Works that oversees such transactions, though nearly twice the allowed amount of time has passed since the emergency contract went into effect.

On Sept. 21, the MTA gave the two-year contract to Transcare Maryland Inc., which will serve as the state’s third provider of mobility service. The agency had declared an emergency four days earlier, said spokeswoman Cheron Wicker, in anticipation of a possible a strike by workers at one of the state’s other paratransit contractors, California-based MV Transportation Inc.

“MTA was notified by MV that their workforce was in labor negotiation and that they were facing the threat of a potential strike,” she said. “We could not allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the event of a strike.”

The MTA had already been considering adding a third contractor — the other one is Veolia Transportation — but decided to accelerate the process because of the looming strike.

No strike occurred, and an MV spokeswoman said she was not aware of any labor dispute regarding Maryland. Calls to the Baltimore chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union were not returned. Transcare was awarded the contract based on its third-place bid last year, when the other two contracts were executed.

But the state spending panel that reviews such “emergency” expenditures, the Board of Public Works, still has not reviewed the contract. Emergency contracts are supposed to come before the BPW within 45 days of their award, according to state regulation. The contract appeared on last Wednesday’s BPW agenda, but was withdrawn by the MTA.

All told, the state will spend $128 million through 2011 on its three paratransit providers, which offer rides to people who can’t access the state’s general public transportation system.

The program has grown by 10 to 12 percent annually in recent years, Wicker said. It made 972,000 trips in fiscal 2009, which ended in June. The new contract is less than 10 percent the size of either of the existing deals.

“Our capacity has been getting strained so we had been considering adding another provider already,” she said.

Wicker said she could not provide an explanation of why the contract report was late.